Workers' Comp

Navigating the Complex Landscape of Utilization Review in Workers' Compensation

June 28, 2024

Benjamin Roberts

VP, Utilization Management

Utilization Review (UR) plays a crucial role in the workers' compensation system, ensuring that medical treatments provided to injured employees are necessary and appropriate. However, the regulatory and jurisdictional nuances of UR often govern how UR is performed, and these nuances can vary significantly state-by-state. Understanding these jurisdictional nuances is essential for compliance and effective claims management. Compliance with UR regulations is vital for maintaining the integrity of the workers' compensation system.

Outlined below are the highlights of some of the state-specific guidelines that have changed the landscape of utilization review:

  • California: California's workers' compensation Utilization Review (UR) regulations require all employers or their claims administrators to have a UR program to assess the medical necessity of treatment based on established guidelines. These regulations mandate timely review processes and require UR plans to be filed with the Department of Workers’ Compensation’s (DWC) Administrative Director. Additionally, regulations outline penalties for non-compliance to ensure adherence to UR standards. As of June 2024, new regulations are being proposed with the goal of harmonizing changes implemented with the passage of SB 1160 and AB 1124 several years ago.

  • Texas: Texas utilization review regulations for workers' compensation ensure that medical service reviews are conducted by licensed healthcare professionals according to established guidelines. Timely decisions and a structured appeals process are mandated for contested service denials, allowing both providers and patients to challenge decisions that affect treatment. These regulations are overseen by the Division of Workers' Compensation to maintain fairness and cost-effectiveness in treatment, with a robust appeals process to address disputes effectively. The TAC 19.2015 outlines these regulatory powers, emphasizing the stringent oversight in UR processes.

  • Colorado: Utilization review protocols require Clinical Peer Reviewers to be licensed in the state, with certain professionals needing specific workers' compensation certifications. The primary guidelines for reviewing medical treatments stem from the Colorado Medical Treatment Guidelines for post-July 1, 1991 injuries, though alternative guidelines approved by the Medical Director are also permissible. Review deadlines are set at 10 calendar days for prospective, two business days for concurrent, and 72 hours for inpatient reviews, while retrospective reviews have a 30-day window. Appeals processes are expedited to 72 hours or set to a standard 10-day timeframe, ensuring timely resolution of disputes.

  • Massachusetts: In Massachusetts, utilization review guidelines primarily follow the Health Care Services Board (HCSB) with provisions to exceed these by using the "10% rule." Secondary references may include state-specific guidelines (excluding California), and tertiary references like the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG) and ACOEM, with PubMed explicitly excluded. Reviews must be completed within two business days for prospective cases, three for concurrent requests (five if delayed), and 20 for retrospective reviews. Appeals, both standard and expedited, are processed within two business days.

  • Illinois: In Illinois, utilization review (UR) guidelines prefer Clinical Peer Reviewers to be state-licensed and available for telephone depositions. The review follows guidelines set by the Medical Director and typically includes treatments like orthotics, dental care, equipment over $500, and surgeries, among others. Review timeframes are 15 calendar days for prospective, two business days for concurrent, and 30 calendar days for retrospective reviews, without additional information requests. Appeals processes are set at 30 calendar days for standard and 72 hours for expedited appeals.

  • Louisiana: UR begins with a mandatory submission of Form LWC-WC-1010, with follow-up submissions as required for additional information.

  • Tennessee: Utilizes the Official Disability Guidelines as the primary decision framework, with specific timelines for prospective, concurrent, and retrospective reviews strictly enforced.

Role of Managed Care Organizations (MCOs)

Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) play a pivotal role in the administration of utilization review processes across different states. Their involvement can vary greatly, offering both opportunities for streamlined medical management and potential challenges due to complex regulations. In jurisdictions where MCOs are heavily integrated into the workers' compensation system, they typically enhance the enforcement of UR by closely monitoring adherence to guidelines and facilitating efficient communications between providers and payers. However, this integration can also introduce complexity, particularly when MCO policies differ from state UR requirements, potentially leading to conflicts or delays in the approval of necessary medical treatments.

Documentation and Compliance

Documentation and compliance are critical components of the UR process, and state-specific mandates significantly impact how medical providers manage their submissions for treatment approval. For instance:

  • California: Providers must use the "Request for Authorization" form (DWC Form RFA), which standardizes the request process and ensures that all necessary information is complete and submitted in a timely manner.

  • Colorado: Utilizes the "WC 188" form when treatments fall outside the predefined medical fee schedules, requiring detailed justification of the medical necessity for such treatments.

  • Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and Louisiana: These states have also implemented specific forms that are tailored to streamline the pre-authorization process. These forms ensure that the information necessary for UR decisions is standardized, making it easier to review and respond to requests efficiently.

This structured approach to documentation ensures that UR entities can process requests more effectively, thereby minimizing delays in patient care and improving overall compliance with state regulations.

Appeals and Peer Reviews

The appeals process is a crucial aspect of UR that provides a safety net for providers and patients when initial treatment requests are denied. This process varies significantly by state, reflecting different legal and regulatory frameworks. For example:

  • California: Offers an Independent Medical Review process, which provides an objective reevaluation of denied treatment requests by a third-party reviewer.

  • Texas: Appeals can be made through an Independent Review Organization (IRO), which reassesses the treatment request independently of the initial UR decision.

These processes ensure that decisions are fair and based on medical necessity, providing an essential check on the UR process.

Technological Advancements: State Portals

Technological advancements, particularly the development of state portals, have transformed how UR processes are managed. These portals offer a centralized platform for submitting, tracking, and managing UR requests, significantly enhancing transparency and efficiency. For example, in New York, the state's web-based medical portal, OnBoard, mandates that all Prior Authorization Requests (PARs) be submitted through this system. It ensures that UR activities are conducted in a transparent, trackable, and standardized manner, reducing administrative burdens and improving response times. These state portals are becoming increasingly sophisticated, incorporating features like real-time updates, comprehensive data analytics, and integration with other systems.

What’s Next for Utilization Review

As the overall workers' compensation landscape continues to evolve, utilization review changes will continue to follow suit. These changes aim to streamline operations, enhance patient care, and ensure compliance with updated regulations:

  • Changes to the Preauthorization Process: Efforts are being made to simplify the preauthorization process, making it faster and less cumbersome for providers. This includes adopting more streamlined procedures and technologies that reduce the time between request and approval.
  • Adoption of Medical Treatment Guidelines: To ensure consistent and effective treatment, states are increasingly incorporating standardized medical treatment guidelines into UR practices. These guidelines are designed to help determine the medical necessity of treatments and expedite the review process.
  • Adoption of Drug Formularies: Drug formularies are being integrated into the UR framework to manage the prescription of medications more effectively. This helps in aligning treatments with evidence-based standards and reduces the variability in drug prescriptions.
  • Creation of Formal Dispute Resolution Processes: New formal mechanisms are being established to resolve disputes in UR decisions efficiently. These processes aim to reduce conflicts between providers and UR administrators, thereby facilitating quicker resolutions.
  • Changes in Case Law: Recent modifications in case law are influencing UR practices, necessitating updates in procedures to comply with legal standards. This ensures that UR practices not only meet medical and ethical standards but also align with judicial expectations.
  • Updating Regulations: Changes in regulatory requirements to remove friction and improve data capture continue including recent proposed changes to the California Utilization Review process

These initiatives reflect a broader shift towards optimizing the workers' compensation system, emphasizing efficiency, cost control, compliance and patient-centered care.